When the Caps held their annual summer development camp earlier this month, the young and impressionable campers in attendance were able to soak up some knowledge from a bevy of coaches, including the vastly experienced and newly cobbled staffs of both Washington and its AHL Hershey farm club.
Three of the players here at the 2014 Caps’ camp have the added benefit of an additional authoritative hockey voice that’s been with them all their lives. Andre Burakovsky, Riley Barber and Christian Djoos are all the sons of former NHL players, and each of them relies heavily on their dad for additional guidance as they endeavor to follow in those skate steps and forge an NHL path of their own.
As a Swedish (born in Austria) teenager playing North American hockey (with Erie of the OHL) for the first time in his young life last season, Burakovsky had a lot of adjustments to make on and off the ice. Robert Burakovsky, whose own NHL career consisted of 23 games with the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators, went to some lengths to carve out some time to guide Andre throughout the season. Robert Burakovsky played 27 seasons as a professional player and is currently coaching the Malmo team in Sweden's U16 Elit League.
“My Dad helped me a lot,” says Andre Burakovsky. “Every single game I played in Erie he watched it online so he didn’t miss a single game. So the next day we were talking about the game, how I was playing and what I could do better and what I was doing good. So he helped me a lot actually.”
But wait. The elder Burakovsky is on the other side of the pond. Isn’t it the middle of the night over there when the Erie Otters are on the ice?
“Every game was starting at like two in the morning back home,” notes Andre Burakovsky, “so he was going to sleep at 11 [p.m.] and putting his alarm on like five minutes before the game. He would get up and just watch the game and when the game was over he was going to bed again. So he was pretty tired the day after, but it’s important to me that he is watching the games so we can discuss those small details.”
That is dedication on the part of Robert Burakovsky, and his hockey progeny showed similar dedication at this summer’s camp, handling the new position of center with aplomb.
Don Barber had a 115-game NHL career, toiling for four different teams over a span of four seasons from 1988-92. The elder Barber skated for the San Jose Sharks in their maiden NHL season, and that turned out to be the last stop of his NHL career.
These days, Don Barber spends a lot of time watching son Riley roll up the goals and pile up the points for Miami (Ohio) U. The younger Barber finished second among all Redhawk skaters in scoring as a freshman and he repeated the feat as a sophomore.
“He’s unbelievable,” says Riley when asked about his pop. “He’s always at every game and watches every game and we always talk for long amounts of time after games. You know he’s just learned so much over the years and you know I just try to take that he’s been there, he’s experienced it, he knows what it’s going to take and he knows what it takes to stay there because you know he was fortunate enough to play but you know he wishes he would have stayed a little bit longer and stuff like that.
“It’s just awesome to have a guy that’s in my life that has been there and can talk to me about what to expect and stuff like that.”
A 2012 seventh-round draft pick (195th overall) of the Capitals, Djoos participated in his first summer development camp in 2014. A defenseman, Djoos is the son of former NHL blueliner Per Djoos. The elder Djoos spent three seasons with Detroit and the New York Rangers from 1990-93, playing in 82 regular season NHL games in the process.
Per Djoos watches Christian perform for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League. It’s the same team Per played with from 1986-90 and from 1996-2003.
“He’s watching the most of the games, so yeah we talk after the games too,” says Christian Djoos of his dad. “But it’s not like he is telling me how I am supposed to play it’s just small tips and all that.”
Both members of the Djoos family are puck-moving defensemen whose frames tend toward the smaller end of the size spectrum. But having a dad who overcame that obstacle has to help as Christian embarks on a similar path nearly a quarter of a century later.
“He says it’s a tough league,” says Christian, “it’s the best players in the world but it’s fun hockey, it’s a smaller rink and it’s faster.”
It’s probably no coincidence that Burakovsky, Barber and Djoos were each mentioned by name when Caps coach Barry Trotz was asked which players impressed him the most at camp. That trio is fortunate to have the wise counsel of men who’ve been where they’re aiming to go, and men who are hopeful of seeing their sons ascend to that level and beyond.
If the threesome of Burakovsky, Barber and Djoos are ever sporting the Washington sweater simultaneously, it should make for some good stories on the team’s annual Mentors’ Trip.